If there is one position West Virginia football coach Neal Brown has focused on recruiting during his time in Morgantown, it is wide receiver. In three seasons coaching the Mountaineers, Brown has added five high school recruits, four transfers and three walk-ons to the WVU receiver room.
Adding that many players can create a logjam at any position, which will naturally facilitate some roster movement. There are expected roster movements, such as Ali Jennings, Zack Dobson and Keion Wakefield transferring out of WVU, but there are also unexpected movements, such as 2020 signee Devell Washington asking to move to linebacker this spring.
“That was something that Devell came to us with,” Brown said following WVU’s scrimmage Saturday. “He came to us right as we were going into break [this spring] and we made that decision to play him at will [linebacker]. Our numbers are low at that position.”
Washington’s decision makes sense from a roster standpoint, taking from a position of strength, like receiver, and adding to a position that is weak such as inside linebacker, where WVU only had six players. The change goes deeper than just numbers, however. Brown said Washington (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is the exact kind of player they want at linebacker.
“If we were going to go recruit a will linebacker, it would look just like Devell,” Brown said. “He’s got good awareness. We really noticed he had the attributes to play defense on special teams in the fall. On our scout teams for special teams, he did a really good job.”
Washington, a redshirt-freshman from Michigan, played receiver and safety at Arthur Hill high school before joining the Mountaineers last season. He appeared in one game for WVU during the 2020 season. The man who will now be coaching Washington, inside linebacker coach Jeff Koonz, said Washington’s biggest challenge right now is just learning the playbook.
“I’m excited about Devell coming into our room, he’s got a skill set that matches the skill set of the position,” Koonz said. “We had 80% of our installation in on defense [when he changed] so he’s got a lot of scheme and alignment and job responsibility things that he’s trying to catch up on right now. We’re not just throwing everything at him, but every day I’m trying to grow what he understands.”
This move for Washington is not just a springtime experiment, according to Brown. WVU’s coaches truly think he will be able to stick at linebacker long term.
“I think this will stick, I think he has real potential at that position, especially how we use the will,” Brown said. “Everything’s new for him but I do think he has a high ceiling.”
After learning the schemes this spring, Koonz said the next step for Washington will be working on technique.
“Once he gets a baseline of where he’s supposed to be in each defense, then he’s got to learn the techniques,” Koonz said. “How he’s going to rush the passer in a blitz, how he’s going to fill when he’s in the box and then when he’s in space how we want him to get to certain places. So understanding the scheme and the techniques associated with each [play] call is imperative for him right now.”
Brown has said West Virginia will look to add a linebacker to the roster this summer through the transfer portal, and Washington’s move likely does not change that. In Washington, however, the Mountaineers finally have a young player who can develop at what has been a somewhat under-recruited position the last few years.